Paulinho

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Paulinho leaves Barca after one year to rejoin Guangzhou

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He came, he saw, he conquered (La Liga and Copa del Rey), and now Paulinho is leaving Barcelona after just one season to return to the club from which he came, Guangzhou Evergrande.

[ MORE: Sunday’s transfer rumor roundup | Saturday | Friday ]

Paulinho’s move to Barcelona was already quite a curious one when it happened last summer: he was already 29 years old, had left Tottenham Hotspur two years earlier after an infamously poor spell in the Premier League, and was making (presumably) far more money playing in the Chinese Super League than he could just about anywhere else in the world. In defense of the transfer and coaching staffs, he proved a totally competent replacement-level player for a side that won two major trophies, at a cost of $47 million.

Of course, Paulinho would have wanted to showcase himself at a higher level ahead of the 2018 World Cup, with his place in the Brazil squad very much still up in the air fewer than 12 months ago. In a sense, it’s a deal that largely worked out for all parties involved.

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Now, comes the truly strange — perhaps, unsavory — part: the transfer which Guangzhou announced on Sunday is a one-year loan deal with an already-agreed future fee for a permanent transfer. According to reports, that future fee will be considerably larger than the amount Barcelona paid last summer, for a player who will, in 12 months’ time, be two years older at 32.

Essentially, Barcelona will have rented the player for a season, and made a profited — perhaps in the neighborhood of $10 million — on the back-and-forth transaction, rather having paid a rental fee themselves.

Brazil breaks down Serbia to win group

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Paulinho and Thiago Silva ended Serbia’s World Cup hopes with goals in each half as Brazil scooped up a win and the top spot in Group E with a 2-0 win in Moscow on Wednesday.

Brazil will face Mexico in the Round of 16 on Monday. It should be a beauty.

Serbia played well over 90 minutes, and will be left to rue an uncalled foul in the box on Aleksandar Mitrovic earlier in the tournament.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

The first 20 minutes was heavy on scares for Brazil. Marcelo had to come off with an apparent leg injury, and Gabriel Jesus was also felled and hit the deck for a spell.

But Paulinho’s goal came after the half hour mark, as Philippe Coutinho opened the lid on the Serbia back line and the Barcelona man used his first touch to flick the ball past Vladimir Stojkovic.

Serbia’s second half battle was fierce, but Brazil made the path to the knockout rounds extra thorny with a Silva header of a Neymar corner kick.

The rest of the match largely saw Serbia on its heels against a third Brazil goal, as Neymar and Co. very much look prepared for the big stage.

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Paulinho key to Barca’s big win at Madrid and Liga lead

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) When Paulinho arrived in Spain last summer, most Barcelona fans were unimpressed.

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The 29-year-old Brazilian looked like a poor replacement for the younger, and flashier Neymar after the star striker forced his record-breaking transfer to Paris Saint-Germain.

But Paulinho is a big reason why Barcelona has quickly turned the page four months after Neymar left them in the lurch to open up a commanding lead in the Spanish league.

His contribution to his new team was more evident than ever on Saturday, when he helped Barcelona to a lopsided 3-0 victory at fierce rival Real Madrid.

Paulinho was only stopped from scoring a goal when Dani Carvajal blatantly used his arm to block his goal-bound header in the second half. Little did it help, since it cost the Madrid defender a direct red card and sent Lionel Messi to the penalty spot to make it 2-0.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde praised his player after the match. “The second goal was decisive,” Valverde said. “Paulinho is a player who goes forward in attack very well, and can surprise the defense with his runs into the area. He works hard and covers a lot of kilometers. He helps us a lot.”

Paulinho’s impact was seen from the very start when he was Barcelona’s top threat during an early stretch when Madrid was dominating.

He went close to scoring early when he latched onto a lobbed pass by Messi, only for goalkeeper Keylor Navas to get his fingers on his rising strike and push the ball over the bar.

The Messi-Paulinho connection clicked again before halftime, when the Brazilian headed his teammate’s cross toward the goal where Navas did well to save it.

“I am very happy. I don’t have words to describe winning my first `clasico’ against a rival like Madrid,” Paulinho said. “Today my shots didn’t go in, but the most important thing is to help the team achieve great results at the biggest stadiums.”

In August, some of Barcelona’s fans and sports press questioned spending 40 million euros on Paulinho, who at 29 was playing in the Chinese league after a disappointing stint at Tottenham in the English Premier League.

With his large frame and more direct playing style, Paulinho didn’t fit the standard mould of the lightweight, ball-controlling midfielder that Barcelona tends to feature.

But he quickly proved his worth to the club by giving Valverde a big, box-to-box midfielder that Barcelona hasn’t had since the days of Yaya Toure several seasons ago.

Paulinho links up well with Messi on his well-timed runs into the area from the midfield, where his extra muscle helps holding midfielder Sergio Busquets fend off opposing attacks.

Paulinho made a difference almost from the start. He used his powerful build to hold off a tackle before scoring his first goal in his third appearance for Barcelona, a winner to complete a 2-1 comeback at Getafe.

He went on to add five more goals in 17 rounds, making him Barcelona’s third-leading scorer after Messi and Luis Suarez.

Even though they are teammates in the Brazil national side, the contrast between Paulinho and Neymar could not be greater.

Paulinho has none of the fancy dribbling, speed, or creative talent of his fellow countryman. But he helps Barcelona both with and without the ball and works much harder in defense than Neymar ever did.

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And his no-nonsense attitude and unquestionable work ethic is worlds away from Neymar’s showboating and taunting of rivals.

The result is evident in the team’s position: Barcelona is on course to reclaim the la Liga crown with a nine-point lead over Atletico Madrid, and a 14-point gap over fourth-place Madrid, before the season reaches its midway point.

“I have to thank my teammates for helping me build my confidence these months,” Paulinho said. “I am working hard to be able to help the team as much as I can.”

El Clasico: Barca looks to end Real Madrid’s title hopes

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El Clasico has been anything but predictable in recent seasons.

There was Real Madrid’s dominant Spanish Super Cup earlier this year, and Barca’s four-point grab last season despite Real winning the title.

2015-16 saw the visitors win both matches, including Barca’s 4-0 smashing of Real at the Bernabeu, while the previous season saw the home sides come out on top in La Liga play.

[ ARSENAL-LIVERPOOL: Recap | 3 things | Stars/duds ]

2013-14 was a year Barcelona snared both league matches but lost the Copa del Rey final, while the previous three season drew cries of “Too much!” as 17 Clasicos dotted the landscape of soccer in Spain (and European tournaments, where Barca dismissed Real from the 2010-11 Champions League).

Enter Saturday morning’s derby in Madrid, where the hosts will be challenged to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed after returning from UAE where they claimed a third Club World Cup in four seasons.

Real’s dropped points in two of its last five league matches, but is coming off a resounding 5-0 home defeat of Sevilla. The reigning champs are 11 points back of Barca with a match-in-hand, and might as well say goodnight to the league with a loss on Saturday. Cristiano Ronaldo leads Real with 16 goals this season, nine more than Marco Asensio.

As for Barca, they’ve sorting themselves out following the Neymar exit drama. Paulinho has proved a decent replacement for Neymar so far, equaling the six goals his countryman had scored at this point last season. Lionel Messi has, no surprise, been Barca’s best asset with 18 goals. Luis Suarez is second with nine in 13 appearances.

Prediction

There’s a lot of pride and pressure at the Bernabeu, and Real may be weary but won’t be caught off-guard. Barca has allowed a stingy seven goals in 16 matches this season, and Real will be fortunate to grab a goal. Barca will do the same, and we’ll call it 1-1 (2-2 if we’re feeling greedy).

La Liga: Atleti open new stadium with win, thanks to Griezmann

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MADRID (AP) Atletico Madrid debuted its new stadium and beat Malaga 1-0 in the Spanish league on Saturday. Antoine Griezmann scored the first goal at the state-of-the-art Wanda Metropolitano.

The nearly 68,000 fans at the inaugural match in the stadium on the outskirts of the Spanish capital erupted when Griezmann converted a low cross by Angel Correa from the right an hour in.

“I’m proud to have written my name in the history of the stadium and in the history of the club,” Griezmann said. “Hopefully there will be many more goals like this in this stadium.”

The victory capped a day of festivities celebrating the stadium’s opening game, attended by King Felipe VI. Afterward, players went around the field greeting the fans in the stands. A show with fireworks and music ensued.

“I’ve never seen anything like this as a player or a coach,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. “With all the flags flying at the same time, the fans were really into it, as if they wanted to be playing. It was moving.”

Atletico moved to within four points of Barcelona, which came from behind to defeat Getafe 2-1 and stay perfect after four matches.

Second-place Real Sociedad, the only other team which entered the weekend with a perfect record, hosts defending champion Real Madrid on Sunday. Madrid is in 11th place, seven points behind Barcelona.

Malaga, which has lost all of its matches, dropped to last in the 20-team standings.

Atletico played its first three games away so there was enough time to get everything ready for the inaugural match.

“It had the feeling of a final,” Atletico striker Fernando Torres said. “As we started hearing the fans chanting our songs, we started seeing the stadium as our own. Everything is better when you win. We started with the right foot.”

It moved into its new home after more than 50 years at Vicente Calderon Stadium, which was beloved by its fans and produced one of the greatest atmospheres in soccer.

The crowd was still loud at Wanda Metropolitano, which offered lot more comfort and luxury.

The stadium is named after the team’s old Estadio Metropolitano and the Chinese company which has a stake in the club. It is the club’s fifth stadium in its 114-year history. The $286-million venue is filled with references to the team’s rich history, including its past stadiums and great players.

Paulinho scored his first goal for Barcelona late in the second half to keep alive the side’s perfect record. He fought off a defender inside the area before firing into the far corner in the 84th minute.

“I’m very happy to have scored the winning goal, it was very special,” Paulinho said.

A former Tottenham player who was playing in China last season, Paulinho was one of the few players signed by Barcelona in the offseason. The club paid 40 million euros to attract the Brazil midfielder and was criticized by many for spending so much on him.

Getafe, which has won only one of its four games to start the season, led through Japanese midfielder Gaku Shibasaki just before halftime. Denis Suarez equalized in the second half.

“We had the game under control,” Getafe coach Jose Bordalas said. “The players are disappointed. We put in a great effort and the result was not what we expected. It doesn’t seem like it was a fair result. We were unlucky but we put on a challenge against a great team.”

Barcelona won the match but lost Ousmane Dembele, its biggest offseason signing, midway through the first half because of an apparent muscle injury.

The Valencia derby between Levante and Valencia ended 1-1. The result left both teams also even in the standings.

Midfielder Joaquin Sanchez scored in each half to give Real Betis a 2-1 victory over Deportivo La Coruna, keeping the rival winless. Deportivo has lost all of its matches except for a 2-2 draw at Levante in the second round.